400-meter gold medalist LaShawn Merritt has accepted a provisional suspension as a result of positive drug tests caused by his use of an over-the-counter male enhancement product that he used intermittently following the completion of the 2009 outdoor track & field season. This over-the-counter male enhancement product contained DHEA and pregnenolone, which caused LaShawn Merritt to test positive on 3 successive tests in October 2009, December 2009, and January 2010. LaShawn Merritt was not notified of any of these positive tests until March 2010, and was made aware only days ago that DHEA was the cause of the positive result. Recent investigation revealed that it was the over-the-counter male enhancement product that contained DHEA.
LaShawn Merritt’s use of this over-the-counter male enhancement product was completely unrelated to athletics, and occurred at a time that he was neither seriously training nor competing. His voluntary acceptance of a provisional suspension means that he has chosen not to compete until the case has been decided. In the interim, he will continue to train hard and take classes towards his degree requirements.
What a shocker! DHEA is sold over the counter!
Even if he gets a two year ban, his suspension will probably be retroactive to October 2009 which means he’ll be back October 2011 and ready for the USA Trials in June 2012. Americans do not run at Commonwealth Games and he’ll miss the 2011 World Championships.
So, what are the effects and benefits of DHEA?
Before I begin, I’ll get back to basics first…
How to Increase Muscle Mass, or Prevent Proteolysis
For those who would like to increase muscle mass, or preventing protein breakdown (otherwise known as proteolysis), I would list the “substances” under the following categories:
- Anabolic effects
- Anti-catabolic effects and anti-estrogenic effects (“catabolic” is the opposite of “anabolic”, and estrogen is the "opposite" of testosterone)
- Amino-Acid and protein supplementation
Anabolic steroids, Androstenedione and Insulin all follow under the “Anabolic Effects”.
These are illegal in sports (except baseball) and on the IAAF list of banned substances. They all exhibit serious side effects during prolonged use.
Anti-Catabolic Effects and Anti-Estrogenic Effects
I’ll need to give a brief lesson on cortisol & corticosteroids.
Corticosteroids are man-made forms of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol plays an important role in the function of almost every part of the body.
Corticosteroid medications have 2 main actions in the body:
- They reduce inflammation
- They decrease the activity of the immune system. A good example is skin cream for eczema.
Hence, corticosteroids are not anabolic steroids per se, but have been known to be abused by some athletes to increase muscle mass, hence, the anti-catabolic effects.
DHEA, or Dehydroepiandrosterone, has been claimed to block cortisol’s catabolic (breakdown) effects on lean muscle tissue.
Because cortisol is a catabolic (tissue breakdown) induced stress hormone, exercise has been shown to significantly raise serum cortisol levels. Thus, DHEA has been shown to block some acute effects of stress induced cortisol release.
Phosphatidyl Serine complex is another product that follows under the same category. PS Complex (as it is widely known) is reported to "protect from cortisol which is catabolic to muscles" as printed on one popular label.
There are many others supplements in this category, but are also on the IAAF list of banned substances.
Amino-Acid and Protein supplementation
Protein powders, Amino Acids, Creatine and ZMA are topics already covered at lengths on this Blog. Use the search box to find out more.